Congress Begins Efforts to Restrict Trump’s War Push

Congress took its first formal steps on Wednesday to eliminate a post-9/11 war authorization that some fear the Trump Administration will utilize as justification for attacking Iran. Separately, a measure to bar any funding for war with Iran was watered down after unified opposition from Republicans and an intervention by Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL).

Since National Security Advisor John Bolton threatened to use “unrelenting force” against Iran, many legislators have been concerned that the Trump administration is heading toward war and might not even seek explicit Congressional authorization. While several bills have been introduced to clarify that Trump does not have the authority to launch a war, Republicans have yet to support any of the measures and Democratic leadership has yet to unite around a clear strategy.

Nevertheless, yesterday Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) offered two serious efforts to rein in Trump’s war authorities as lawmakers began finalizing the annual Defense Department funding bill. First, Rep. Lee succeeded in passing an amendment that would set up a process to repeal and replace the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) against al-Qaeda and associated forces. Not only has the Trump administration falsely asserted that there are ties between Iran and al-Qaeda, but it has also refused to rule out using the 2001 AUMF to attack Iran. That’s exactly why NIAC Action and many other groups strongly supported Lee’s amendment.

Furthermore, Lee offered a second amendment that would have barred funding for the introduction of U.S. forces into Iran without explicit Congressional authorization. Defense Appropriations subcommittee chairman Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-IN) offered his support for the amendment while Republicans, led by Rep. Ken Calvert, objected. Calvert asked, “What happens if the Iranians sink a ship in the strait of Hormuz this afternoon? Are we to do nothing?”

However, the amendment still appeared poised for passage until Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) objected, expressing concerns that it “precludes a preemptive strike in the event of an imminent threat” from Iran—one of the scenarios for which Bolton has reportedly requested war plans from the Pentagon. Rep. Lee sought to reassure Wasserman-Schultz that the President would retain authorities to address urgent threats but ultimately, Wasserman-Schultz’s concerns led to a significant watering down of the amendment. The compromise amendment states that nothing in the appropriations bill itself would authorize the use of force against Iran, but fails to restrict the President in any serious way. Thus, the apparent desire of Wasserman-Schultz to preserve Bolton’s ability to strike Iran appears to have significantly weakened the Congressional response to rising threats of war.

Still, Republicans opposed even this weakened messaging amendment, with Rep. Calvert warning that it “creates confusion about the U.S. purpose toward Iran and our right to respond if attacked.” The amendment ultimately passed 30-22 in a party-line vote. The bill will now be considered by the full Appropriations Committee before heading to the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote.

Additional legislation has been introduced to clarify that Trump does not have authority for war with Iran, and to block funding from being used for a potential war. Additionally, both the Defense funding bill and a separate bill to set Defense Department policies will be considered in the weeks ahead, providing further opportunities to restrict the President’s powers to start a war of choice with Iran. However, if yesterday’s mark-up is any indication, those hoping to prevent a war will need to overcome opposition from both Republicans and some hawkish Democrats.

NIAC and 117 other Organizations Call for Incoming Congress to Hold Hearings on Muslim Ban

Washington, D.C. – Today, NIAC sent a sign-on letter supported by 117 other organizations – including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), National Immigration Law Center (NILC), Oxfam, MoveOn, and Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) – calling on the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees to hold Congressional hearings and conduct rigorous oversight on the Muslim Ban.

With the signing organizations representing tens of millions of Americans, this is the largest statement to date in favor of Congress ensuring stringent oversight over the ban. See the full text of the letter below:

Letter Requesting Muslim Ban Hearings Dec. 20

Iran Hawk Accuses Lawmaker of Supporting Iranian Repression During Hearing

WASHINGTON, DC – “It’s imperative that the administration change its direction and work with Congress, along with our European partners, to mitigate the very destabilizing consequences of our withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement,” declared Ranking Congressman Peter Welch (D-VT). On June 6, 2018, the Subcommittee of National Security of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform met to discuss the U.S. withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Rep. Welch put hawkish witnesses on the defensive regarding U.S. options after the collapse of the JCPOA, noting the increased risk that the U.S. will be backed into supporting war and regime change. This led to a shocking moment where one panelist accused him of acquiescing in the repression and torture of citizens by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

When pressed by the Chairman of the subcommittee, Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), on whether the US was pushing toward war with its goal of regime change, Senior Advisor at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies Richard Goldberg dismissed the notion. He claimed that no official “on this panel and certainly in the administration…is coming anywhere near such a policy [of direct military engagement].”

Congressman Welch then asked if statements made by National Security Advisor John Bolton and President Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani, who have both been clear in their desire for U.S.-backed regime change in Iran, should be dismissed. He asked Goldberg, “[John Bolton]’s the national security adviser for the president, he said to the American people that our goal should be regime change in Iran. Now you just want to blow him away and say that he didn’t mean it?”

Goldberg pushed on and suddenly accused the congressman of condoning the Iranian regime’s violations of human rights, asking Rep. Welch, “Congressman, are you for repression of the Iranian people, yes or no?” In an incredibly disparaging action towards the congressman, he immediately charged, “Are you for the repression and torture of [Iranians]?”

“There is no one in this Congress, no one in this country, that condones repression anywhere by any dictator in any country, and you know that. I’m asking the questions here,” Welch replied, taken aback by the wild accusation.

Congressman Welch pressed on in questioning the panelists on the Trump Administration’s policy if Iran were to aggressively ramp up its nuclear activities. He posited, “Let me ask this question, what’s the option for the United States, should Iran aggressively restart its activities towards building a nuclear weapon? Who on the panel would favor the use of military action at that point? Just raise your hands.”

David Albright, President for the Institute for Science and International Security, replied “Absolutely,” and Michael Pregent, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, proceeded to raise his hand in favor of future military force against Iran. Dr. Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who pushed for the 2003 invasion of Iraq and military action against Iran in the past, said: “There’s episodes of overwhelming pressure that has caused Iran to back down…I’ll let history be the precedent on this, Mr. Ranking Member.”

When Congressman Welch pressed the panelists on post-JCPOA policy recommendations, the sole JCPOA supporter on the panel – Jim Walsh, Senior Research Associate in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Security Studies Program – declared, “We don’t have a strategy and that this puts on a path to war, either by design – regime change – or we back into it as we respond to them a bit – beginning to reinstall their nuclear program.”

The ‘support for the Iranian people’ that Secretary of State Pompeo claims is the Trump Administration’s position was critiqued by Walsh, who stated: “On this issue of the Iranians whom everyone professes such great concern for…the Iranian people are not happy with us – Muslim ban, number one.”

Any military confrontation with Iran will not only embolden hardliners within the country, but will inevitably result in Iranian civilians actively resisting any foreign military aggression, Walsh continued. “A [private] poll came out last month that…asked the Iranian people… ‘How should we respond to the U.S pulling out?’” Walsh noted. “67 percent of Iranians said that Iran should retaliate. Why? Because they’re rallying around their flag.”

Walsh reiterated the fact that if Iran is attacked militarily by the United States, such an attack would damage U.S credibility in the eyes of Iranians. Any direct military strike by the Trump Administration is counterproductive to U.S. interests and only further alienates the Iranian people from any favorable view of America’s agenda in the region. As Dr. Walsh explained, “They may not like the corruption. They may not like the economy. But if you threaten to attack their country, we’re going to help the hardliners. We’re not going to strike a blow for democracy.”

NIAC Condemns Trump’s Divisive Address




Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council, released the following statement in response to tonight’s State of the Union address:

“President Trump’s first year in office was spent dividing our union and undermining American credibility abroad. Far from taking actions to restrain a President woefully unfit for the job and dedicated to discriminatory and un-American policies like the Muslim ban, Congress has aided and abetted Trump. The American people, including the Iranian-American community, will remember those legislators who have defended Trump’s disgraceful policies and then stood and applauded him tonight. They will also remember those who criticized Trump’s actions on the sidelines but refused to challenge him when it really counted.

“Trump’s words of praise for the Iranian people were once again utterly hollow. Only a President without any conscience could praise the very people he is banning. Trump should drop the ban, but if he is too attached to his bigotry to do so, he should at least stop pretending to be a friend of the Iranian people.

“Trump once again reminded Congress that the buck stops with them on the Iran nuclear deal and broader areas of concern with Iran. But Congress cannot unilaterally alter the terms of a multilateral agreement without violating its terms. Moreover, there is already a blueprint of success on issues of concern with Iran: serious, multilateral negotiations aimed at mutual compromise. Unfortunately, Trump has shown outright disdain for this successful approach, with the administration having zero communication with Iran outside of what is required by the nuclear accord.

“Trump, of course, neglected to mention that Iran is complying with the nuclear accord and that international inspectors in Iran are implementing the most robust verification regime in the world thanks to the nuclear deal. Congress should continue to abstain from any action that would push the U.S. into violation of the accord, while also undertaking steps to pressure the administration to recommit to fully abide by all the terms of the deal. There is no excuse for Members of Congress to be an accomplice to Trump’s undermining of an accord that is forestalling an Iranian nuclear weapon and war with Iran over its nuclear program – otherwise, they will share the blame for the accord’s collapse.”


The New Playbook to Kill the Iran Nuclear Deal

Under the Obama administration, Iran hawks have been free to attack the Iran nuclear deal without fear that they would actually succeed in violating U.S. commitments – and triggering consequences from an unfettered Iranian nuclear program to an all out war. No matter what they proposed – from “tearing the deal to shreds” to blocking promised sanctions relief, they knew Obama would block them from translating their rhetoric into policy. But with this dynamic set to end in January under the Trump administration, many of the fiercest critics of the nuclear deal are suddenly warning against killing it directly. Instead, they are leaning in favor of an indirect approach of escalating pressure on Iran, including through sanctions with a “non-nuclear” label, in hopes of driving Iran to quit the agreement. While this approach might appear more attractive at first glance, it in fact carries the same risks of the U.S. unilaterally violating the agreement.

If Trump moves to snap back sanctions in blatant violation of the accord while Iran is upholding it, the international coalition that has enforced sanctions against Iran would fracture, and Iran would be free to withdraw from its obligations and advance its nuclear program. With a divided international community, the U.S. would have little diplomatic leverage with its spurned partners – let alone Iran – leaving only dire military options. Hence, those critics suddenly cautioning about the dangers of backing out of the deal include Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN), who has stated “I don’t think [Trump] will tear it up and I don’t think that’s the way to start.” The President of the hawkish United Against Nuclear Iran, David Ibsen, has also warned “You don’t want all the blame for the deal falling apart to land on the U.S.”

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NIAC Statement on First Anniversary of the Finalization of the Iran Nuclear Accord

Press Release




NIAC President Trita Parsi released the following statement on the one year anniversary of the finalization of the Iran nuclear accord:

“Today marks a full year since the U.S. and Iran, along with world powers, concluded marathon negotiations in the historic Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The accord has succeeded where bluster and un-ending sanctions failed by rolling back and ensuring unprecedented inspections over Iran’s nuclear program. Critically, this has averted two disasters: that of an Iranian nuclear weapon as well as a costly war that would further destabilize the region and devastate the hopes of the Iranian people for a brighter future. It has also opened the door to cooperation outside the nuclear sphere if the U.S. and Iran can seize the opportunity.
“The diplomatic path has not been easy. Even now, it is under threat as opponents of the JCPOA in Congress force votes on bills that would violate the accord by re-imposing sanctions that have been relieved. These efforts have fed into ongoing sanctions relief complications that have drained support for the accord among the Iranian people. While Iran has gained some relief, particularly in oil sales and access to recently un-restricted revenues, the lack of major banks willing to engage in Iranian transactions has greatly hampered the pace of relief. As the Iranian people have not seen the benefit of the bargain, increasing distrust could lead to major complications in implementation of the accord down the road, and must be addressed.
“Over the course of the second year of implementation, the JCPOA will undergo major tests as both the U.S. and Iran hold elections for the Presidencies of their respective countries. Both Presidents Obama and Rouhani have proved willing and able to set aside the enmities of the past in order to reach for a brighter future. It will be vital for Obama’s successor to maintain this approach in order to ensure the accord is on solid ground and to build on its success. For Rouhani to maintain the Iranian Presidency, it will be vital to show that sanctions relief complications can be overcome and to show greater willingness to fulfill electoral promises by pursuing moderation internally.
“While there will be strong incentives for all parties to stay within the agreement, regardless of changes in U.S. and Iranian leadership, the next five and a half months offer a critical opportunity for the Obama and Rouhani presidencies to strengthen the foundation of the accord. There are a whole host of opportunities that can strengthen U.S.-Iran diplomatic channels and insulate the deal from political opposition – including via efforts to fix sanctions relief complications; pursue sustainable diplomatic solutions in Syria and Yemen; enabling enhanced U.S.-Iran academic exchanges; establishing a permanent diplomatic channel; and by securing the freedom of imprisoned dual nationals like Siamak and Baquer Namazi. 
“It took more than three and a half decades for diplomatic negotiations between the U.S. and Iran to become routine, and all of the diplomatic dividends of renewed ties will not come overnight or even in one year. However, it is vital that the U.S. and Iran not succumb to the forces that want to limit collaboration to the nuclear sphere, which would only succeed in making the JCPOA easier to unravel. Now is the time to lean forward and make sure that the historic steps taken since 2013 are irreversible.”



NIAC Opposes Amendment to Extend Iran Sanctions 10 Years

The National Iranian American Council issued the following statement regarding an effort to extend Congressional sanctions for an additional ten years:

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) strongly opposes a controversial amendment from Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2016 that would extend the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 from its current expiration of 2016 through 2026. This amendment would short-circuit Congressional consideration of sanctions relief in a final nuclear agreement and risk complicating ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran and derailing negotiations as they reach their endgame. If it comes up for a vote, NIAC strongly urges the Senate to reject it.

With a historic nuclear deal potentially just weeks away, Congress should wait to see the exact parameters of an agreement before considering whether to alter major pieces of Iran sanctions legislation. Given that the Iran Sanctions Act doesn’t expire until the end of 2016, there’s plenty of time to allow for the negotiations to play out and for Congress to review a final deal before considering any action regarding the ISA. Taking action on this matter now, in the middle of negotiations, would be premature and counterproductive.

Extending sanctions for ten years would send a dangerous signal on one of the most sensitive and unresolved areas remaining in the talks. There are legitimate questions about whether the U.S. will be able to deliver on the terms for sanctions relief under a nuclear deal, and the passage of this amendment would give credence to those concerns. Even if Iran acknowledges that U.S. sanctions won’t technically be lifted but rather suspended in the initial years of a deal, extending the ISA well into the future would boost Iranian hardliners and make the sell for difficult nuclear compromises in Iran even tougher.

A key premise of the recently-passed Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA) was that it would establish an orderly process for substantive debate by Congress regarding an Iran deal. As several of the bill’s supporters articulated, it ensures Congress will have its chance to weigh in on whether to support or oppose a nuclear deal and on the issue of sanctions, but only once the negotiations are completed. However, the Kirk-Menendez amendment is one of several offered to the NDAA regarding Iran that represent a breach of that bipartisan promise. Those who voted for the INARA and believe in an orderly review process should ensure that the Kirk-Menendez amendment and similar amendments are blocked as negotiators seek to finalize a nuclear deal.


House Advances Resolution on Americans Detained in Iran

Kildee Amir

Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) pushing for the release of his constituent, Amir Hekmati. Photo via Politico

Washington, DC – On Tuesday, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs heard testimony from family members of Amir Hekmati, Jason Rezaian, Saeed Abedini, and Robert Levinson before advancing a resolution sponsored by Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) calling for the release of Americans detained in Iran.

All of the witnesses expressed dismay over the treatment of their relatives under Iranian detention, emphasizing their concerns about the psychological wellbeing of the prisoners. Witness testimony described the opaque nature of the Iranian justice system, routine physical and emotional torture, as well as inadequate access to legal counsel. All of the witnesses, with the exception of Sara Hekmati, had not spoken to their relatives in over a year.

The detentions are widely believed to be part of an effort by hardline elements inside Iran who oppose rapprochement with the West and seek to undermine the nuclear negotiations. Some legislators were careful to not take the bait. Kildee, who represents the family of Amir Hekmati, an Iranian American who has been imprisoned in Iran for more than four years, has led intensive efforts to condemn the detention and demand the former Marine’s release. “The release of Amir and the other American prisoners should be unilateral and separate of any agreement,” Kildee said at the hearing. 

Kildee warned that Iran could never achieve its place as a serious member of the global community if it persisted with the unjustified detentions. But he also cautioned his colleagues, “we should not conflate the freedom of these Americans with the items that are being negotiated regarding the nuclear capabilities of Iran.”

However, many lawmakers in attendance argued otherwise. Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ) pointed out that Congress recently passed a law giving it the right to review any agreement reached during the nuclear negotiations. “Any deal with Iran is dead on arrival that doesn’t include the release of these prisoners,” he said. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), along with many of his Republican colleagues on the committee, said that negotiations on the nuclear issue should be stopped until these prisoners are released.

“While our focus this morning is the release of these Americans, these cases do call into question the integrity of the diplomacy surrounding Iran’s nuclear program,” said Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), the committee chairman. 

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) went even further. “I would like to propose legislation that would suggest that if the mullah regime continues to hold these hostages, that any representative of the mullah regime that goes outside the borders of Iran would be susceptible of being taken into custody and held until the hostages are free,” he said.

Following the testimony the committee unanimously passed House Resolution 233, which calls for the immediate release of all Americans currently detained in Iran, and for the Iranian government to cooperate in providing information in regards to the whereabouts of any Americans who have gone missing within its borders. The resolution is co-sponsored by more than 160 members of the House and is expected to pass easily barring controversial changes. The Senate passed a similar resolution last month.

NIAC Welcomes Schakowsky-Doggett-Price Letter

Washington, DC – NIAC commends Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Rep. David Price (D-NC), and all 150 members of the House of Representatives who sent a letter to President Obama today providing the strongest Congressional endorsement of nuclear negotiations with Iran to date.

“This letter reflects the views of the majority of Americans who support a negotiated resolution with Iran and is a last line of defense against those in Congress who are committed to killing a deal,” said Jamal Abdi, NIAC Policy Director. “If the President is forced to use his veto to protect an agreement this summer, there are now sufficient lawmakers on the record in support of the envisioned deal to potentially uphold that veto.”

The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act is expected to be signed into law within weeks, which would give Congress the power to vote on an Iran deal and potentially block its implementation by passing a resolution of disapproval. Such a resolution would face a Presidential veto, which would require 145 Representatives, or 34 Senators, to sustain. If the 145 voting members who signed onto the Schakowsky-Doggett-Price letter vote to protect the veto, a deal would be approved.

“Protecting a deal by veto is not the ideal option because it could convince some in Congress to persist with further efforts to sabotage a deal,” said Abdi. “But if it’s necessary to prevent Congress from killing a deal and leading us down the war path, the President will have to use his veto and many lawmakers will have his back.”

The Schakowsky-Doggett-Price letter conveys support for the framework nuclear agreement secured by the U.S. and UN powers with Iran in April. Its signers warn that a collapse of negotiations would be harmful to U.S. interests and that war would not make the U.S. safer. The letter’s signers encourage continued diplomatic efforts by U.S. negotiators to seal a final deal.

“The best option for a strong, sustainable agreement will be for lawmakers to approve a deal by either passing a positive resolution or simply doing nothing,” said Abdi. “We are optimistic that, between this letter, the support of the American people, and a good final deal, there will be sufficient support in Congress on both sides of the aisle to protect a final deal.”

>> Related: Who Signed the Schakowsky-Doggett-Price Letter

Congressional Support for Iran Framework Agreement

Following the announcement of a framework nuclear agreement with Iran, several key Members of Congress have voiced their support:

Rep. Donald Beyer (D-VA)

“I congratulate the American negotiators, led by Secretary Kerry, as well as our P5+1 partners on reaching this political framework agreement. More issues remain to be resolved, but this framework could form the basis of a historic agreement that will peacefully prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, thereby removing one of the greatest threats to the security of a region which certainly needs no more instability.”

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR)

“Despite efforts by many to scuttle diplomacy with Iran, today’s framework agreement is an extension of steady, incremental progress from all sides, since day one. It makes clear that all parties are committed to securing the only alternative to military action in Iran, which is a negotiated solution to their nuclear program. 

We’ve set the stage for a paradigm shift in the country and in the region, but much heavy lifting remains because there’s no deal until a final deal is reached. As a result, Congress must restrain itself from unhelpful actions in the coming months. It is not constructive to demand a ‘better deal’ that no negotiator could secure.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA)

“The Obama Administration has worked tirelessly to reach this point and I will work to ensure that Congress has the patience to support this diplomatic effort because the risks of walking away from the table are simply too high.” 

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH)

“Americans want to find a peaceful means of ensuring Iran cannot develop a nuclear weapon. It appears the framework agreement with Iran reached by the U.S. and other UN Security Council nations will serve as the basis for the kind of comprehensive and verifiable agreement for which we had been hoping. 

I have not seen the details, and look forward to being briefed on its terms. But the initial reports are positive, and Congress must now give the Administration the time to fill in the details necessary to make the agreement effective, strong and durable.”

Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE)

“Some believe that no deal is the best deal. But I believe we must give peace a chance. As the president has said repeatedly, he will not be party to a bad agreement and, on first blush, this looks like a pretty good deal for the United States. It is not a deal based on trust – it is one based only on verification and one that becomes binding only if the Iranians hold up their end of the deal. Once we’ve had a chance to drill down on the details of the agreement, we may very well find that this is a very good deal for everyone.”

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN)

“No one wants a nuclear Iran, and this tentative agreement reflects that reality. Those who sought to undermine these negotiations would be well served to remember that the alternative to an agreement is an Iran with no limits on or international monitoring of its efforts to enrich uranium. We should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, especially when the “perfect” that many seek is unrealistic. I, along with many of my colleagues, look forward to learning the details of the final June 30th agreement and hope it is a step in the right direction towards a non-nuclear Iran.” 

Rep. John Conyers (D-MI)

“The Obama Administration’s painstaking diplomatic efforts are yielding one of the great international agreements of our time: a verifiable plan to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The framework agreement will not only promote long-term security in the Middle East but also help remove the short-term specter of a destructive military confrontation. Today’s announcement will unquestionably make the Middle East and the broader world safer.”

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX)

“This agreement provides a sound framework to make our families safer.  It is not based on “trust;” it is based on “verify.”

The interim Joint Plan of Action has already given us more insight and given the Iranians less capability to go nuclear.  The same voices that condemned that interim agreement before they knew what was in it are condemning this agreement.  These “bomb Iran” rejectionists are wrong again.” 

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL)

“I’m encouraged to hear that negotiators have agreed to a framework—a major step toward achieving a final deal. Our shared goal in the United States is clear: to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. The stakes couldn’t be higher and I commend Secretary Kerry and our entire negotiating team for their commitment to finding a diplomatic solution that guarantees our security and that of our allies.”

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN)

“The framework agreement announced today is a positive step towards securing a final agreement that will prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. President Obama, President Rouhani and the P5+1 remain committed to the difficult work of diplomacy—even as hardliners in the United States and Iran call for war. Peaceful diplomacy, especially at a time when the divide between the United States and Iran is so wide, is always preferable to war. This agreement shows that there is political will on all sides to cross the finish line to a final agreement.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)

“There is no realistic solution to Iran’s nuclear program outside of a verifiable, broad-based and ironclad diplomatic agreement. After being briefed and reviewing the parameters, I believe the negotiators have made substantial progress and that this is a sufficient framework to produce a final agreement by the end of June.”

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN)

“Americans want to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and they would prefer to do it through diplomacy rather than military action. This breakthrough agreement is an important step toward that goal. I believe that Congress now should give our negotiators time and space to work out the details of a strong, verifiable comprehensive agreement.”

Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-AZ)

“The framework announced today by the P5+1 negotiators is a promising step towards lasting peace and security, not just in the Middle East, but the world over. We now have demonstrable progress in keeping the worlds’ most sinister weapons out of Iran’s hands, and a success to build upon towards one day achieving normalized relations. It is a diplomatic victory that exhibits exceptional leadership from President Obama. Lawmakers from every political persuasion should applaud and support his ongoing efforts.” 

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA)

“It is welcome news that the U.S., it’s international partners, and Iran have agreed on a deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program. While some of my colleagues have objected to negotiations with Iran, it must be noted that thanks to these historic diplomatic efforts, the world is further from a nuclear-armed Iran and the risk of war over this issue.”

Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI)

“I am hopeful that today’s announcement of a framework agreement between the P5+1 and Iran will lead to a verifiable and effective final deal regarding the Iranian nuclear program, with the ultimate goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. While critical details are still pending, this framework presents a promising foundation for a long-term solution.”

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) 

“Today’s framework agreement would prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon, enhances our national security and shows that diplomacy works. This is a major step forward for diplomacy, national security and global peace. This type of smart, strategic diplomacy brings us closer to a more peaceful and secure world while promoting U.S. national security.”

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA)

“As outlined by the framework, the final agreement would not only be a “good deal” – it has the potential of being an historic one.  A strong and verifiable final agreement will also avert the U.S. and other nations from engaging in yet another war in the Middle East, which I believe is an unthinkable alternative.  At the same time, this framework and the final agreement would strengthen all efforts to contain nuclear weapons globally.”

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT)

I will continue urging my Senate colleagues to allow negotiators to represent the United States’ best interests without taking action that would, intentionally or not, jeopardize the discussions taking place. Those who are critical of today’s framework have the responsibility to present a serious, credible alternative that would get us to our ultimate goal: achieving a nuclear-free Iran in a way that doesn’t require another war in the Middle East.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)

“I commend President Obama and Secretary Kerry for their smart, tough leadership in reaching the preliminary nuclear framework announced today.

We have no illusions about the record and conduct of the Iranian regime. That is why this framework to roll back Iran’s nuclear program is founded not on trust, but on vigilance and enforcement. Critically, this framework significantly restricts Iran’s enrichment capability and enables us to intensify our vigilance where it is needed most and that is inside Iran’s facilities. The aggressive inspections and restrictions outlined in the preliminary framework offers a strong, long-term plan to stop Iran from building a bomb.”

Rep. David Price (D-NC)

“I commend President Obama and our international partners on negotiating an historic framework agreement with Iran. After years of uncertainty and tentative progress, this agreement would advance the safety of the United States, Israel and other allies, and the global community. We must now see the process through the final, technical phase and work to implement a comprehensive, lasting agreement.

Members of Congress will need to scrutinize this agreement carefully. Unfortunately, some seem to have prejudged it, undermining the President’s efforts and proposing unilateral congressional action that could undo the progress made by our negotiators and risk grave consequences.”

Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI)

“Those who would thwart diplomacy or undermine the talks should remember that failure could come at a steep price for our troops and national security.  Some of the loudest critics of diplomacy with Iran today wrongly backed a rush to war with Iraq, which ended up empowering Tehran and strengthening their hand in the region.  We can’t afford to repeat the mistakes of the past.” 

Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV)

“I spoke to President Obama today and he informed me that negotiators have agreed upon a framework with the goal of preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. I am cautiously optimistic about this framework. We must always remain vigilant about preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon but there is no question that a diplomatic solution is vastly preferable to the alternatives.

Now is the time for thoughtful consideration, not rash action that could undermine the prospects for success. We have much to learn about what was negotiated and what will take place between now and the end of June. In the coming days and weeks, we should all take a deep breath, examine the details and give this critically important process time to play out.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT)

”While much more work remains to be done this framework is an important step forward. It is imperative that Iran not get a nuclear weapon. It also is imperative that we do everything we can to reach a diplomatic solution and avoid never-ending war in the Middle East. I look forward to examining the details of this agreement and making sure that it is effective ‎and strong.”

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)

“I am grateful to President Barack Obama, Secretary John Kerry and his team, as well as our allies for establishing this robust and verifiable agreement.  Over the next three months the t’s must be crossed and i’s dotted in order to put the agreement into action. I will be working in Congress to make sure that we play a constructive role in supporting this historic diplomatic achievement, one that will make the region – including our closest ally, Israel – the United States and the world safer.”

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA)

“While I reserve judgment on whether a final deal will materialize or would enjoy my support, enough progress has been made to warrant the additional time necessary to determine if the remaining issues can be resolved. In the interim, Congress must ensure that its actions do not preclude reaching an acceptable agreement or be seen as scuttling a peaceful path to ending Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)

“The announcement of a framework for a comprehensive agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program is a positive development. I look forward to closely reviewing the framework and continuing my work, as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to ensure that Iran cannot develop nuclear weapons.”

Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA)

This deal has the potential to cut off all of Iran’s paths to a nuclear weapon in a verifiable way. Opponents should seek to guide the framework towards a positive outcome, not attempt to derail a final comprehensive deal. No final deal will be perfect, but the objective is to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapon without going to war. In the months ahead, I will follow negotiations closely and encourage a peaceful and positive outcome. 

Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY)

“It was an honor to be at the White House for this historic announcement to limit Iran’s nuclear program and prevent them from developing a nuclear weapon. I believe this is a deal worth supporting, but we must wait to ensure there is no backsliding on any parameters before a final agreement is signed. I commend President Obama and Secretary Kerry, as well as our global partners, for this breakthrough that holds the promise of a safer world and more stable Middle East.”

Congress Lays Tripwires for Iran Nuclear Accord

As negotiators work to clear the final hurdles for a framework nuclear deal with Iran, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) and Ranking Member Robert Menendez (D-NJ) have decided to delay a markup of a bill that would lay tripwires that threaten any final deal. Diplomacy has been given more time to succeed, yet the threat of Congressional obstruction still looms on the horizon. The committee will now consider the bill on April 14 after a two week recess, in what could be the first Congressional action on Iran following a potential diplomatic breakthrough. While Corker has sold the bill as a way to ensure Congress can “weigh in,” on an agreement, legislators supportive of a negotiated solution to the Iran nuclear crisis should recognize the bill for what it is: a dangerously written measure that injects new demands into the negotiations and risks laying the foundation to kill a historic agreement.

There are three major tripwires that the Corker bill would impose on a deal.

First, the legislation would delay implementation of any deal for sixty days while Congress decides whether or not to reject the accord. This poses a major problem because it means Congress would be injecting a new demand into the talks. If an accord is reached, the timeline of a deal will be carefully worked out between the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Germany and Iran. Congress would be jumping in at the eleventh hour to demand the negotiators discard the implementation schedule in order to build in a two-month buffer window for Congress to consider whether or not they want to kill the agreement.

Further, one of the major benefits of a nuclear deal is that it would empower Iranian moderates and isolate hardliners who have opposed any form of reconciliation with the West, potentially leading to positive reverberations outside of the nuclear issue. However, unilateral moves by the U.S. Congress to halt implementation would lead to the opposite. The sixty day delay on implementation would give hardliners time to dissect and condemn every Iranian concession, while moderates that brokered the deal would be left to defend the concessions after the U.S. reneged on the timeline and without any tangible sanctions relief to point to. This could complicate the moderates’ ability to fully implement the terms of an agreement and, in turn, enable opponents in the U.S. to retaliate in response.

The second tripwire requires the President to certify throughout the duration of the agreement that Iran is not providing support or financing for terrorism. If the President fails to make the certification, Congress would be empowered to expedite consideration of legislation to snap sanctions back into place, effectively nullifying the deal. Countering Iranian support for terrorism is, of course, a worthwhile and necessary undertaking. However, it should not be inserted into a nuclear deal. We don’t want to be in a position where Iran is upholding the nuclear deal but the President is unable to make certifications on non-nuclear issues, forcing us to renege on the agreement. Such a requirement would shift the goalposts of the negotiations, which are focused solely on the nuclear issue, and guarantee that we get neither a nuclear deal nor address Iranian support for terrorism.

The final tripwire, which has received the most attention, enables Congress to pass a Congressional vote of disapproval to revoke the President’s sanctions waiver authorities. A vote of disapproval would need a simple majority to pass, which could be secured solely through partisan opposition to the agreement. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) will use the vote of disapproval to turn the screws against Democrats and force anyone who isn’t willing to destroy U.S. international credibility for political gain into taking a very tough vote. Even if they fail to override the expected veto, they will be empowered to continue their efforts to kill a deal after the 60 day review period ends.

The fact that this legislation presents severe complications for negotiations should not come as a surprise. The last several weeks have seen absurd partisan maneuvers by hawkish Republicans aimed at undercutting the negotiations, highlighted by the letter from Sen. Tom Cotton (R-KY) and 46 of his fellow hawks in the Senate warning Iran’s leaders not to trust the President of the United States. S.615 would help these saboteurs achieve their goal of scuttling the talks and lead to an expanding Iranian nuclear program and an increasing likelihood of war.

There are alternative measures available to Congress that would increase Congressional oversight without threatening to scuttle a potentially historic accord. For example, the bill from Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the “Iran Congressional Oversight Act” (S.669), would require reports on Iran’s adherence to an agreement and, if Iran violates its commitments, expedite the snapback of sanctions. Further, in the wake of the Helsinki Accords, Congress created an independent commission to monitor signatories’ compliance with the accord. Either the Boxer bill or a Helsinki-like commission could potentially be a workable alternative to S.615. Critically, neither of these options interferes with the implementation timeline, inserts issues outside the scope of negotiations, or risks a rash rejection of what would be a historic, multilateral agreement.

As the parties inch ever closer to a historic agreement, would-be Congressional spoilers will only intensify their efforts to throw a wrench in the works. Legislators who want to secure a diplomatic solution shouldn’t ease their path by supporting S.615.

This article was originally posted in The Huffington Post.

Memo: Congress Considers Its Options on an Iran Deal

With growing confidence that a framework nuclear deal with Iran will be sealed before the March 31 deadline, Congress is turning its attention to oversight of any nuclear agreement. Two recently introduced Senate bills offer a lesson in contrasts as to how Congress may approach its oversight role and serve as a reminder that Congressional interference still poses a considerable hurdle to a peaceful resolution of the nuclear dispute.

The Corker-Menendez Bill

S. 615, the ‘Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act’, goes well beyond additional oversight and risks scuttling a nuclear deal. Introduced by Senators Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, and Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, this legislation makes less — rather than more — likely our ability to peacefully secure a nuclear deal with Iran.

S.615 would delay the implementation of a nuclear deal for 60 days – restricting the President’s authority to suspend sanctions. It provides Congress a mechanism to vote down a deal, which would revoke the President’s sanctions waiver authorities and prevent a deal from being implemented. The effect would be to force the U.S. to violate its commitments, likely isolating itself from its international partners while freeing Iran from the tough constraints of a nuclear deal as well as any multilateral sanctions.

The Corker-Menendez bill would also require the President to provide certification on not just Iran’s adherence to a nuclear deal, but that Iran had not committed an act of terrorism against the United States or U.S. nationals. Failure to do so would enable Congress to consider expedited legislation to reimpose nuclear sanctions–and violate a nuclear deal. The United States should contest Iranian support for acts of terrorism, but not at the cost of reneging on a nuclear deal and freeing Iran from constraints on its nuclear program.

The Boxer Alternative

The second of these bills – S.669, the ‘Iran Congressional Oversight Act’ – takes a more balanced approach to Congressional oversight. Introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, this bill would require the President to report to Congress every 90 days on Iran’s compliance with a nuclear deal. If the President determines Iran has violated the agreement, then Congress can expedite legislation re-imposing sanctions on Iran.

Additionally, the Boxer bill clarifies the role Congress will play in lifting sanctions if and when it is required to do so under a nuclear deal. In doing this, this legislation proves a more appropriate vehicle for Congressional oversight. It does not insert Congress into the negotiations at the 11th-hour and does not stymie our chance to resolve the nuclear dispute with Iran in a peaceful manner.

The Helsinki Approach

As Congress debates its role following a nuclear deal, it is important to recall historical precedent. In cases where the President has entered into non-binding political commitments with other countries, Congress has tended to keep its distance and not interfere with the negotiations.

Where Congress has claimed a more assertive role, it has done so in ways that do not threaten either the negotiations or an agreement itself. For instance, following the Helsinki Accords, Congress passed a statute creating an independent agency whose task was to measure signatories’ compliance with the Helsinki Final Act. Congress did not threaten to kill the Accords nor to expedite legislation should a violation be found. It did not predetermine the outcome in either of these ways. Instead, it formed a more deliberate body, which continues to exist today, to soberly assess the compliance of all parties to the agreement.

In the weeks and months ahead, Congress will seek to claim institutional prerogatives to oversee a nuclear deal with Iran and to do so in ways that threaten an agreement itself. It is critical, however, that lawmakers consider past precedent and figure out how to exercise their oversight authorities in ways that strengthen the U.S.’s position in negotiations, help secure a strong nuclear deal, and sustain that nuclear deal over the long-term.